CEDAR RAPIDS — Buena Vista Coach Steve Eddie has noticed a difference in his baseball team from about a month ago.
The Beavers' latest victory demonstrated their growth since a five-game losing streak that included a three-game sweep by regular-season champion Coe.
“We were down big-time mentally,” Buena Vista Coach Steve Eddie said. “The thing about it is we just figured that everything that we did we could change and they started to get a little bit better. They got a little more mentally stable and emotionally mature. That has been the difference.”
Second-seeded Buena Vista moved a step closer to its third conference tournament title with a 4-0 victory over top-seeded Coe in the winners' bracket final of the American Rivers Conference tournament Friday at Memorial Stadium. The Beavers (23-17) advanced to the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m.
Eddie expected pitching and defense to be strengths and they have been keys in two straight errorless postseason shutouts.
“I thought we could play pretty good baseball,” Eddie said. “It took a little longer than what it was. We’re really a lot different emotionally.”
Buena Vista pitchers have been on lockdown since last week’s regular-season finale series against Dubuque. Beaver pitchers haven’t allowed a run for 36 consecutive innings. Nick Henrichs threw 5 2/3 innings for his second win of the season. He combined with Tyler Tennyson and Gage Smart for the shutout. Smart earned his second straight save of the tournament and eighth overall.
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Eddie said he wasn’t sure the reason for the recent stinginess but noted the Beavers are near a season record with a .960 fielding percentage.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Eddie said. “I’ve never had that before.
“They’re just putting the ball in play. For the most part, they’re getting ahead and I don’t know if I really want to know the answer.”
Buena Vista capitalized on a few Kohawk mistakes for an early lead. In the second, Henrichs and Logan Mueller reached thanks to consecutive errant throws. Tyler Stoltze and Ryley McGregor followed with back-to-back RBI singles for a 2-0 lead.
Henrichs added a two-out RBI single to score Coleman Roberts in the third for a 3-0 lead. Henrichs and Roberts led Buena Vista with two hits apiece.
Each Buena Vista pitcher escaped jams. Henrichs thwarted a rally in the second after Coe got the first two on base. Tennyson relieved Henrichs in the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded, ending the threat with a fly out. Smart came in with two baserunners and none out in the ninth, retiring three straight.
“We’ve been making really good plays,” said Eddie, referencing to an over-the-shoulder catch by McGregor to rob Jordan Kaplan of an extra-base hit with one on in the sixth. “Ryley made a really good play in left field and it kind of woke Nick up again to say ‘I need to make some quality pitches. That is just what it’s been.”
Buena Vista is looking for its first conference tournament title since 2014.
DUBUQUE 3, LUTHER 1
Dubuque advanced to face Coe in Saturday's 10 a.m. elimination game. The winner will face Buena Vista in the championship round.
Tyler Carlson (3-3) pitched a complete game, allowing just five hits, one walk and a run while striking out five.
The Spartans (27-14-1) took the lead on Kellen Mitchell's two-RBI double in the seventh.
DUBUQUE 3, CENTRAL 2
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Dubuque remained alive with a come-from-behind victory in an elimination game, overcoming a two-run deficit and managing just one hit.
The Spartans scored one in the fifth and two in the sixth for their second win over the Dutch (24-16) this tournament.
Jordan Goldstein drove in two runs and Thomas Kempf had the lone Spartan hit. Dubuque starter Nathan Schneiderman allowed four hits through five innings, striking out six. Nick Sewruk tossed four innings of shutout relief.
Garrett Saunders and Coy Moore each had two hits. Saunders had an RBI and Joe Rebik added a solo home run for Central.
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